This post has been updated with fresh Pew data.
Conservative radio host Erick Erickson had some thoughts Monday morning. Among them were that the “political left is becoming the American ISIS” and that the United States should begin talking about secession.
But one particular claim caught my eye:
We have 320 million people who hate each other and the left shows no signs of toning down rhetoric after last week’s mass assassination attempt.
The idea that basically everybody in America is so politically polarized that they hate the other side is one that many a political analyst has invoked at a time like this. It's certainly true that the vitriol seems unprecedented and that there is very little middle ground — that you either love the GOP and hate the Democratic Party, or that you love the Democratic Party and hate the GOP.
But how many Americans truly feel this way?
It's not 320 million, as I suspect even Erickson would acknowledge. He was being hyperbolic, I get it. But still: It's an interesting question.
Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham last week highlighted a Pew poll from earlier this year that found more than half of Republicans and Democrats viewed the other party “very unfavorably” — a number that has been steadily rising on both sides over the past two decades.
According to Pew's party identification numbers, 29 percent of registered voters call themselves Republicans, while 33 percent call themselves Democrats. If 58 percent of Republicans hate Democrats and 55 percent of Democrats hate Republicans, that would mean about 35 percent of registered voters hate the opposite political party.
Of course, that's not 35 percent of the entire U.S. population of 320-or-so million; it's just 35 percent of all registered voters. And according to Tom Bonier of the Democratic political data firm TargetSmart, the country surpassed 200 million registered voters just before the 2016 election. Using that number, you have about 70 million Republicans and Democrats who hate the other political party.
But that's not quite hate. I mean, I strongly dislike the Wisconsin Badgers and olives, but do I hate them? Probably not. (Neither of them, frankly, are really worth that much energy.)
Pew, thankfully, drilled down deeper than just “very unfavorable.” It also asked whether people believed a party was “a threat to the nation's well-being” — which seems to augur closer to hate. You can passively dislike something else, but believing it is a threat to your country probably connotes something approaching an active hatred.
In this case, 45 percent of Republicans hate the Democrats, and 41 percent of Democrats hate the Republicans. That's 26.5 percent of all registered voters, or about 53 million people in total.
That's not the final number, though. You also have some independents who hate one political party but don't necessarily see fit to join the opposite party. I asked Pew about this, and it sent over some numbers: 18 percent of independents see the GOP as a threat, and 19 percent see the Democratic Party as a threat. Applying that to the 34 percent of registered voters who describe themselves as independents, and there's another 25 million people who hate one side or another, for a grand total of 78 million -- or 39 percent of all registered voters
And finally, it's hypothetically possible that some people who aren't registered to vote also might hate one party or another — or both. But given they haven't registered to vote, it's probably a negligible number. If you feel that strongly, you're probably going to spend 10 minutes to register to vote. And frankly, if you haven't even put in the effort to do that, your hatred isn't strong enough for this highly scientific survey.
So in the end, only about 78 million Americans actually hate the other political party — not 320 million. That's only one-fourth of the entire population! (Of course, it also includes little babies who may or may not have the capacity for deep-seated hatred. Yet.)
Maybe we don't need secession after all?